I recovered from heroin addiction in the early 1970s. I used for 3 years as a teenager, went into residential treatment in NY for 18 months, and 'graduated' the program in the summer of '73. I've spent the last 46 years in successful remission with zero relapses. In my opinion, I was lucky to live in a program run by GREAT people, in an unconventional (by today's standards) treatment environment that ceased to exist long ago. I was also lucky that public funding was readily available back then, and insurance had nothing to do with the equation. If you needed and wanted help, it was there, and it didn't cost you, or your family, a dime.
But my article today, "Food Fight," is about my struggle with food addiction, and my recent foray into early recovery from a decades-long battle with indiscriminate eating.
I decided to write to spread a message of HOPE.
Boredom, stress, and habit. These are the conditions that make me vulnerable to overeating. Habits form early; we learn what tastes good and we associate reward and pleasure with eating food that tastes good to us. We learn to live to eat. Restaurants, celebrity chefs, being a foodie, etc., all contribute to the clear message of food as something to be sought after, repeatedly.
Stress is a forgone conclusion today. It comes at us from many angles. No need to belabor this reality. If I'm anxious and feel stress, I eat. Ironically, I would self-treat the stress generated from feeling horrible about my weight and my declining health, with FOOD. Bad food. Processed food, sugar, bread, pasta, fast food, on and on.
Boredom would be similarly treated. I 'retired' a few years ago and as I tried to become accustomed to all the free time, I became bored immediately. Nothing to do so I ate. And ate.
It took me years to stop and think about the role food was playing in my life. It became crystal clear that there was very little that separated, at least in MY case, the food and the drug use from which I thought I had recovered. Most of the crazy behaviors were the exact same. Most of the twisted thinking, the same. Most of the health risks, the same. Food and eating was all I thought about, day and night. On Monday I would think about where I'd be getting food and what type of food for the rest of the week. I would, for years, wake up every morning with a food hangover, feeling physically awful, and mentally wrecked, and emotionally depressed from yet another self-inflicted beating I took the day before.
There were times I did things to help myself. In 2000, I spent about $4000 for 2 weeks at a program in Durham, NC, and lost 22 lbs while there. I came home and over the next 10 months lost an additional 71 lbs for a total 93 lb weight loss. I went from 343 to 250. At 250, I was 20 lbs away from my goal of 230, my 'playing weight' so to speak. I felt great, was in the gym 3-4 days a week, and in the best shape of my life in the fall of 2001, at age 48.
By 2011, I was back up, to 355 lbs. I lost 55 lbs in 3 months, and at 300, felt marvelous. I saw health coaches, personal trainers, yadda yadda.
Just like opiate addiction, these are the external factors...weight, appearance, compliments from others, clothing looking good, etc. But inside, internally, I was still discontented and uncomfortable with the person I was. Sad, depressed, uneasy in my own skin. Same as when I used heroin. No different. So, was I truly recovered? Did I beat addiction? No, not really.
So here's the hope part...
At 330 lbs based on my recent annual physical, I visited my daughter, son-in-law, and 5 year old grandson in Florida during Thanksgiving week. Seatbelt-extender in hand, I strapped in, and made the journey. Walking hurts so I can't really walk to burn calories. My back is chronically sore. So I basically sat on the couch the entire week, eating and moaning from the discomfort of realizing I couldn't even spend active time with my grandson as he rode the bike I bought him for his 5th birthday a month before. My wife went with him, I stayed back. I was super unhappy all week. My son-in-law is a fitness, health, and nutrition coach, body-builder, and personal trainer. I asked him for help. Chris put a food plan together for me, and I started it the Monday after Thanksgiving. I'm at 311 today, and last week I started back at the gym, cardio the first week, and this week I'm doing my first whole-body workouts in addition to the cardio. Mind you, the weight I'm lifting is LIGHT, and the cardio is 20 minutes on the treadmill/bike, 3 times a week. Nothing brutal.
I FEEL great. I'm going slow and steady, as guided by Chris. The 4 meals a day are protein-rich and rigid in terms of portions and food choices. Getting to day 1 was the hardest, and getting through week 1 was tough, as my body detoxed from the poisons that had accumulated from the bad food and awful habits. I'm losing weight slowly, but the knowledge that I'm treating my body with the respect it deserves creates a euphoria that rivals any opiate high. It's a sustainable euphoria that will continue to strengthen now that food has become FUEL to run the factory. I'm allowed one 'cheat meal' each week where I'm allowed to eat ANYTHING I want, including dessert. It's less of a reward, and more about 'tricking' my body into thinking it's getting the calories it needs, so it doesn't feel the need to store calories to avoid starvation...ha ha, starvation, that's a funny concept for someone who has been avoiding starvation most of his adult life by eating indiscriminately.
I'm into week 4 now, and experiencing the joy of early recovery. I have a sponsor, Chris, who is always available to answer my questions and explain the plan, and help keep me on track. I'm much more on my own now, the texts to him are less about the meals, and more about the good stuff that's going on. I feel HOPEFUL. I'm not poisoning myself anymore. I'm not killing myself slowly anymore. I'm not hating myself for another food binge anymore. And if I keep at it, I'll be able to walk next to my grandson next time as he rides his bike.
HOPE is good. I can build recovery around the belief that there is hope that I will lose the 80 lbs I have as my goal. When I hit 250 sometime next spring or summer, I will prove to myself that the numbers are attainable, and worth the work. Once I got through week one, I was missing nothing, and realized for the first time in a long time that I was winning the food fight. I was ahead on points even though these are the early rounds. I can live with that. I can LIVE.
Big love always,
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